My garden continues to be my comfort and my unbiased confidante. It turns out that I am not alone in this feeling.
The children's book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was a childhood favorite of mine. Published in 1911, the story used a garden motif to explore the healing power innate in living things.
In H.G. Wells's short story “The Door in the Wall, "one character recounts a garden experience almost identical to mine. Describing a garden he had entered, he says, “I forgot the sort of gravitational pull back to the discipline and obedience of home. I forgot all hesitations and fear, forgot discretion, forgot all the intimate realities of this life. It was, I tell you, an enchanted garden.”
Horticultural therapy (HT) has been practiced since ancient times. Dr. Benjamin Rush, an 18th century physician recognized as a founder of American psychiatry, was the first to document that working in the garden had positive effects on people with mental illness. In the 1940s and 1950s, health professionals working in the medical rehabilitation of veterans found that working in the garden was beneficial, thus enhancing the credibility and acceptance of the practice.
Today, horticultural therapy is an accepted and widely used option in rehabilitative, vocational and community venues. The therapy helps participants regain lost skills and learn new ones. It can help strengthen muscles and improve balance, coordination and endurance.
HT improves memory along with cognitive abilities, language and socialization skills. People can learn to problem solve, work independently and follow directions in a vocational HT setting.
The University of California at Davis's California AgrAbility Project assists organizations that help veterans plant gardens. The gardens provide many benefits, including peace of mind, hope and a connection to home. CalAgrAbility researchers found other health benefits, including strong evidence that nature heals and helps create therapeutic environments that reduce anxiety, stress and blood pressure.
A leader in the field of environmental psychology, Dr. Clare Cooper-Marcus, says that gardening brings the mind to a state similar to meditation. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers are using gardening as therapy for PTSD symptoms. At V.A. facilities in Connecticut, medical staff has found that veterans working in gardens report relief from depression and reduced substance abuse. Gardening turns the focus away from self and affords an outlet for frustration while providing satisfaction. To find more information, visit http://calagrability.ucdavis.edu
.In San Diego County, Master Gardeners worked with several local agencies to educate residents at a girl's rehabilitation facility. Working collaboratively, they designed a garden and taught the young women about building healthy soil, watering wisely, managing pests and handling food safely. Ten residents participated initially. Their positive experiences encouraged more to join the endeavor.
Residents in the program work in small groups with Master Gardeners. They learn how to make healthy snacks from the food they grow. The positive results include better collaboration, communication and teamwork. The organizers hope to use this plan as a template for other sites in the juvenile-court and community school system in that county.
Napa County Master Gardener Jill Rowley has written about Napa Valley Hospice's gardening program for clients of its Adult Day Services. Participants, who worked with Master Gardener volunteers, enjoyed experiencing the fresh air, watching plants grow, tending perennials and weeding the specially built raised beds. Rowley noted that participants often showed improved memory and increased socialization skills after participating in the gardening.
So when life becomes overwhelming for you or you just need a re-set, I highly recommend that you head out to your garden. Whether you relax in a chaise with a glass of iced tea and a good book or rake leaves like a mad person, I feel sure you will emerge refreshed and in a better frame of mind.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will hold a workshop on “Propagation and Seed Starting” on Sunday, March 1, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Yountville Community Center in Yountville. Master Gardeners will discuss and demonstrate several types of propagation methods, including division, soft wood cuttings, grafting and seed starting. Learn about the tools and techniques that lead to successful propagation and have a hands-on experience. To register, contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 707-944-8712 or visit its web site.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.